In this project, I work primarily with Kerry Porth, who is a well-known sex worker rights activist. Together, we write about the sex worker rights movement in Canada and the US, that is, the movement to recognize the rights of sex workers and to destigmatize and decriminalize sex work. We focus on sex worker rights organizations as important political actors who engage in processes to raise awareness and to reform laws around sex work, and we develop an approach to theory that is in political solidarity with these organizations. This project brings together academic research and graphic novel illustrations. Kerry and I have the enormous privilege and pleasure of working with a fabulous team. Please check them out on our team page!
I came to sex work research through volunteering for WISH, a sex worker drop-in center based in Vancouver. Getting to know the ladies who access the center started to shift my personal beliefs and professional values. Over time, it became clear to me that I was not comfortable devoting so much of my time to research with little societal impact. I had been focusing on deliberative democracy, which is a rich ideal but largely unattainable in real-life politics. WISH takes a harm-reduction, rights-based approach to supporting sex workers. Volunteering at the center opened my eyes to the possibility of conducting research for social and policy change and doing so in ways that support, even empower, those who experience social and policy oppression. This basic idea would come to inform all the research work that Kerry and I do.
Kerry and I are currently working on a book project tentatively entitled Rights not Rescue: Research in Political Solidarity and Toward Empowerment. In this project, we develop ideas about epistemic and ontological injustices in the bedrock of criminal laws around sex work. The existence of these prior injustices gives rise to criminal laws that cause daily injustices against sex workers. Our approach serves to expand the scope of injustice to the bedrock of criminal laws so that we can recognize that legal reform is not simply a matter of changing laws. For laws to protect the human rights of all, we need to interrogate their foundations for stigmatizing conceptions and moralizing assumptions that effectively diminish the agency and humanity of individuals subjected to those laws.
If you’ve been wondering why I’m embodied as a character from a graphic novel, this might explain things. Through this medium, we intend to further inform conversations, especially among young people, around the importance of understanding sex work as work and recognizing sex worker rights. Comic strips and graphic novels have the potential to bring levity to serious issues and, conversely, to broach serious issues with a bit of levity. We’ve been working with a wonderful illustrator and sex educator, Addison Finch, who brings so much knowledge and joy to our work.
Please have a look at our growing series of comic strips! More coming soon!
Last updated: September 01, 2021
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